Top Ten Tips for GMing

21 09 2009

I’ll stick to the term GMing for my blogs.  With D&D 4.0, even Pathfinder have to avoid using the DM title.  But what makes a good games master?  If I avoid the obvious, like having rulebooks and dice, I’ll offer ten useful tips for novice and veteran GMs alike:

  1. Show don’t tell – This is a writing tip that travels well into the gaming world.  A good GM gives hints and clues as to what is happening.  It is far better to quote an NPC having a rant than to say, ‘they are angry with you.’  It is far better to create an atmosphere using the five senses than to simply say it is an evil place.  Using evocative adjectives wins every time.  Darkness, cold and the smell of sulphur (however hackneyed) always conveys evil – but it lets the characters work it out for themselves.  Better still, use some original description.
  2. Let the role-playing flow – avoid at all costs interrupting interaction between two PCs or worse still a PC and an NPC to get them to roll dice.  This smacks of boredom and keeps the player out of character.  Once the dice are held, they are a player, not a character.  Similarly, let the players speak as much as possible.  Don’t feel the need to match them word for word.
  3. Be fair and consistent – this is so obvious yet it is often ignored.  To start with, rules should be applied evenly.  If, as GM, you realise a rule has been misinterpreted before, don’t wait until it’s used to point out the fact.  Let players know where they stand at all times.  There is also nothing wrong with fudging rolls from time to time, but if the players believe their actions count for nothing and that you will do whatever you want regardless, you lose them.  Finally don’t trick players unnecessarily.  If you have a trap, that’s all well and good.  If you know the players have misunderstood something, don’t let them go blindly into certain death – warn them.
  4. Make it fun but challenging – if the levels of encounters are too easy or too hard, you will lose the players.  Role-playing should never be a competition between GM and players.  I always want the players to succeed – but want them to do so by the skin of their teeth.  That is the perfect balance.  Game death will happen, but should be the exception rather than the rule.  Similarly, the game should both be balanced (in terms of combat, role-playing, problem solving etc.) as well as biased a little towards what the players like (not what the GM likes).
  5. Don’t make challenges stop/go situations – if you set a puzzle that the players can’t solve, you can’t sit there for four sessions while they work it out.  Sometimes players see through clever plans straight away.  Other times they miss the obvious.  Always have a contingent for the times they don’t get it.  And avoid having an NPC walk up and solve it instantly.  This simply annoys the players.  Let an NPC pose questions that lead to the players solving the puzzle.
  6. Be enthusiastic – if a GM seems bored by the scenario, the players will too.  How do you expect players to enjoy what they’re doing if you don’t?  Enthusiasm is infectious – spread it around.
  7. Set clear and fair house and table rules – I’ve talked about these before but the key here is to be consistent; take into account what the players want; follow them yourself (this really bugs the players if you don’t).
  8. Be inclusive – never make an entire adventure revolve around the rogue at the expense of the other characters.  Nor should you make an adventure revolve around a rogue if the party doesn’t have one!  Having said all of this, there is nothing wrong with making specific scenarios link to one character to allow them to shine for five minutes.  And next time let another PC take the lead. 
  9. Know the PCs – a good GM knows the skills and feats the PCs has and will ensure that the scenario will utilise them.  This is especially true for the more obscure skills as it makes the players feel good and ensure that they will pick interesting and diverse characters next time around.
  10. Know the players – you need to know how to pitch the game and understanding who are the really immersive role-players and who just likes to roll dice are will ensure you pitch the game right.  For example, know who the rules lawyer is and enlist them to be the rules-guy.  Go to them when there is a query and make them focus on helping rather than catching you out.
  11. Use character names – this is so much better than using the player’s name – even when you just want to catch their attention.

OK, I count eleven tips too – but the title wouldn’t have looked as neat with the odd number in the title.




One response

10 12 2009
What alignment is your GM? | Moebius Adventures

[…] Top Ten Tips for GMing from abstract xp ( […]

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